As I sit here writing, I have the White House Health Care Summit running in the background. This is the meeting where President Obama invited Congressional leaders to sit down at the table in front of the American public and talk about how to find common ground over what has become a very divisive, political debate about healthcare.
So far, I am hearing the Republicans say “start over” and Democrats say “we can’t wait” ad nauseum. I say, “Lock them in the room, get out a piece of paper and pencils, and start writing.”
But despite the discouraging aspects of this Blair House rhetorical rumble, I think there are a few signs of hope — and those signs may bode well for action on clean energy and climate change.
Transparency. As annoying as I find much of the actual healthcare summit oratory, I love that this speechifying smackdown is being done on TV. I thought both sides articulated their views very well and I think that those watching walked away with a better understanding of where everyone stands. It was a very thoughtful debate. (I also think that a lot of their points led to a collective shrug from the public because, well, I hate to break it to them but they kind of agreed most of the time. It leads me to ask – so, what is the hold up? But, back to the point.) I also thought it was great last month when President Obama spent a significant amount of time debating the Republicans at their retreat about everything from clean energy and climate legislation to foreign policy. Once again, the public was given the opportunity to understand the issue with fewer soundbites and more substance. I think that this trend toward a transparent, televised process would bode well for a climate bill.
Whether it is the grossly exaggerated claims of consumer cost or the inaccurate, overstated accusations of scientific error, climate legislation has been seriously wounded by the 30-second misinformed soundbite. A televised debate would hopefully reveal the very real benefits of addressing climate change and properly explain why a cap on global warming pollution is necessary not only to ensure a cleaner environment – but to give companies the incentive they need to invest in clean energy technologies , create jobs, and make us less dependent on oil-rich, terror-sympathizing countries.
Signs of Bipartisanship. With healthcare, just having the two sides argue in public is a move toward bipartisanship, but on climate, folks from both parties have already taken the step of locking themselves in a room together with paper and pencils. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has been working with Senator John Kerry (D-MA) and Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT) for weeks as they draft a comprehensive climate and energy bill. His willingness to put politics aside is the first step towards finding a solution.
And there are other positive signs. Last week, five Senate Republicans voted with Democrats to overcome a procedural hurdle on the jobs bill. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Kit Bond (R-MO) and George Voinovich (R-Ohio)–
voted to end a filibuster so that the bill, a $13 billion program to give companies a break from paying Social Security taxes for the remainder of the year on new employees, could get a final vote.
In almost all ways, comparing the jobs bill to energy and climate legislation is like comparing apples and oranges. However, in the way that may matter most – getting moderates from both parties to vote their minds instead of their parties – it opened the door to bipartisanship. That is hopefully where we can resume building momentum on climate.
Signs of Accountability. One of the greatest things that started today in tandem with the healthcare summit is a new age of accountability. The visionaries over at The Sunlight Foundation provided its own interactive broadcast of the proceedings over the Internet. Broadcasting over the web isn’t the revolutionary part — what is really terrific is that as each politician spoke, Sunlight would post campaign contributions that the person speaking has received, “their connections to lobbyists and industry, personal finances, and key votes that the leaders have made on health care in the past.”
As these Members spoke, you could learn about their ties and it was fascinating to see the dots so clearly connected. Now, having worked for Members of Congress, I can certainly tell you that elected officials don’t always vote they way their donors ask. However, it was incredibly enlightening to have that background available as they spoke. In a world where there are approximately eight healthcare lobbyists for each Member of Congress, it was very good to be able to really view the playing field and now the full scope of influence.
Greater accountability is also catching fire in the clean energy debate where bloggers, public interest groups, and media outlets are starting to ask who has their pockets lined by big polluters. Just go to http://www.polluterharmony.org and you can see who has found their “true political love” with dirty fuels. By putting all the pieces together, we can get a fuller picture of someone’s intentions and that can only lead to better legislation that is written in the interest of the people.
In many ways, Washington should co-opt Chicago’s title as the “Windy City” after today’s healthcare summit. But there is reason to hope. Transparency, bipartisanship, and accountability will hopefully emerge as long-term trends that offer hope to every progressive issue.